Crane operator Kenny Loch
by Mimi Montgomery
photographs by Ray Black III
If you drive past one of the many construction cranes looming over the Raleigh skyline, there’s a chance the tiny speck you see in the cab is tower crane operator Kenny Loch.
Loch is one of the thousands of people transforming the Raleigh skyline, most recently helping to construct the luxury apartment building being built by developer Gordon Grubb and Stiles Residential Group at Oberlin Road and Glenwood Avenue. The number of tower cranes needed for that project and many more is booming: Last spring, U.S. Census Bureau data showed the Raleigh metro area is the 16th fastest-growing in the nation.
As you might imagine, Loch is busy keeping up with the area’s rapid expansion. So busy, in fact, he’s been working 10-to-11 hour days, six days a week for the past few years. The Erwin native got into the business when he graduated from high school, moved to Wilmington, and began working in construction while cleaning up hurricane debris along the coast. He started out with loaders and backhoes and began training on tower cranes when he moved back to Raleigh.
For six weeks, Loch sat with an operator in a cab learning to maneuver cranes to lift huge materials to build skyscrapers. The cranes themselves are also large; Loch has operated some rising over 300 feet. It’s a demanding, meticulous job, one that requires patience and instinct.
“The tower crane is different than any other piece of equipment because everything is swinging, everything is in motion,” says Loch. Timing is everything, he says, and it takes practice to get the movements just right. “A new operator is slow as molasses. (When I started), I was going to pick something up and everyone would take off like an explosion – every man for himself,” he says with a laugh.
There are plenty of safety precautions in his line of work. At the beginning of each work day, Loch ascends the crane in installments, climbing 20-foot ladders interspersed with catwalks. When he has to do safety inspections, he is hooked into a harness as he climbs out of the cab to check the extended crane parts.
It’s a lot of effort to get up there, so once Loch is in the cab, he usually stays put for his entire shift – sometimes more than 12 hours. He makes sure he has everything he needs to settle in for the long haul. “I get my cab decked out,” he says. “I have a coffee maker, a refrigerator, a toaster oven, a radio, and a cabinet with snacks in it.”
Of course – you have to wonder – what does he do when nature calls? Loch sums it up succinctly: He keeps a bottle handy.
Details aside, the view is pretty great. “The tower crane is peaceful,” Loch says of the alone time. “But the burden is that you can’t talk to people – it’s a lot of guesswork.” Of course, he has radios to talk to the construction crew on the ground and other crane operators, but things can still get hairy. When dropping 6,000-pound pieces of equipment, the crane bounces back in response, shaking all over with Loch at the top; during storms, winds can get up to 65 mph, and “it feels like you’re on a ship in the middle of the ocean,” he says. “That’s pretty scary.”
The husband and father of five says his wife gets nervous from time to time, but his kids love visiting him on-site and seeing the equipment. Loch says one of the coolest things, though, is to watch the tower cranes be assembled. It’s done in increments, and each huge piece is brought to the site on a series of trucks. To start, a smaller crane on the job site assembles a larger crane piece-by-piece. This larger crane in turn assembles the tower crane, which then takes apart the medium crane once it is complete. The same thing happens when it’s time to disassemble the tower crane.
The entire process is enjoyable to him; he likes jumping around from project to project, and has worked with a variety of crane companies and area contractors. It’s a lot of work, but the results are worth it: His resume includes Carter-Finley stadium, SkyHouse, Red Hat, Rex Heart and Vascular Center, Hunt Library, Central Prison, the Blue Zone at UNC’s Kenan Stadium, and North Hills.
It’s safe to say Loch has left his permanent print on the Triangle landscape: Just look up.